There’s a book that’s popular among sober addicts which is rather remarkable. Unlike other books, you see, it contains concepts, lines and stories that simply were not in it when you read the book before. Now, this doesn’t make sense and I for one don’t believe in the sort of magic that’s capable of creating and editing new passages in books that have sat for many years on my shelf. And yet, with this book, it’s happened time and time again: I pick it up and read something I’ve definitely never read or heard before, even though I’ve read this book hundreds of times.
It took me about a year of reading and re-reading this book for me to see one particular passage that immediately struck me as incredibly relevant in my life. This sentence was: Self-righteous anger is the dubious luxury of normal men.
It took me a while to get it. What’s this supposed to mean, I first wondered, self-righteously. Since when is anger is a luxury? And since when is it a luxury I’m not afforded because I am not normal? Two question marks probably punctuated that thought.
I was angry, you see, because it was oh so true.
I am not normal, whatever normal may be. My reactions to things are bigger and in some cases smaller than they should be. My problems aren’t really my problems, you see; it’s my reactions to my problems which are my problems. And rest assured that I was an angry one from out of the womb. I remember the tantrums of my youth, mostly because they continued long past the point of acceptability. It’s safe to say that I have never been someone who has had trouble “getting in touch with her anger.”
Aside from my previous tendency to ingest so much cocaine that the euphoric whirling dervishness of it all faded into immobility and depression, I would say that the greatest change over the course of my sobriety has been my diminished anger. Part of that is due to the fact that without a steady flow of depressants and stimulants flooding my system, I’m less triggered toward rage. But a lot of it has been the realization that all my anger ever did was make me feel worse—that I wasn’t actually getting back at anyone, though I usually felt like I was, but just making myself feel major shame hangovers. And this was followed by the realization that I did actually have some control over this: that if I could stop the anger flow in time, I could pause when agitated, as this same book I referenced talks about doing, and during that pause make the choice not to give in.
I certainly have not been cured of my alcoholism or my anger. Feel free to ask anyone in my life just how little I’m in the running for sainthood. But my anger has quelled considerably, to the point that the only times I really need to watch myself these days are when I’m right. Because that’s where the self-righteous part comes in. If I’m wrong—if I’m an asshole for no particular reason and I know it and you know it—I tend to get over it pretty quickly. But if I’ve been wronged…watch out. If you’ve taken advantage of me or you’ve done something wrong and are treating me like I did, I’m not only going to be mad but I’m also going to have major justifications for it. And if I can justify it, I can get addicted to it. If I can justify it, in other words, I’m going to have a much harder time pausing and then letting it go. Why should I let it go when I’m right, my ego seems to scream with all the requisite extra question marks, forgetting all about that somewhat rhetorical question about whether I’d like to be right or happy.
Normal people, from what I understand, can be angry and right and then just move on. But is it really so bad that addicts have to accept the fact that we’ve lost the luxury of getting angry because we have a chemical reaction to it which produces a phenomenom of craving, if we want to be able to live remotely sane lives? I actually find it kind of liberating. It’s certainly made life easier.
Alec Baldwin is an excellent example of this phenomenon. He’s spoken openly about his addictions and sobriety so I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with using him as an example in this case. Dude clearly cannot handle his rage. And this latest incident, where he went into apoplectic homophobic meltdown mode because a reporter wrote that his wife was tweeting during James Gandolfini’s funeral, really shouldn’t have made news since it’s more of the same but we as a society are always hungry for a celebrity meltdown so of course it did.
I guess it wasn’t true; she didn’t tweet during the funeral. And probably Baldwin’s a little self conscious about the fact that he married a girl who’s closer to his daughter’s age than his own and he’s therefore defensive over the fact that she might be seen as the sort of silly person who would tweet during a funeral. But spending hours melting down, days cleaning up and inspiring millions of anonymous comments from people wondering what the f is wrong with you was, I think it’s safe to say, not his goal when he attempted to correct this misconception about his wife and Twitter and funeral etiquette. And I’d bet, now that almost all is said and done over the matter, he feels shittier about it than any of the people calling him names anonymously online do.
I’d also bet that he feels like he doesn’t have any control over his anger. But striving for humility—never easy, of course, when you’re as famous and successful as he is, but arguably all the more reason to try—can go a long way toward extending the length of that pause addicts are provided if they take it when they’re agitated. Remembering that self-righteous anger is a dubious luxury could help. After all, most addicts have already experienced far more than our share of dubiousness.
[Image courtesy of avclub.]
Anna David is the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me and By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There. She speaks at colleges and on TV about addiction and recovery.
Categories: Culture & Politics